Costa Rica is a place of breathtaking beauty, with lush rainforests, towering volcanoes, and pristine beaches. From the misty cloud forests of Monteverde to the remote beaches of Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica offers an endless array of photo opportunities. Whether you are a professional photographer or an amateur with a passion for capturing nature's beauty, Costa Rica is a destination you should not miss.
Costa Rica is a relatively small country in Central America. It is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, making it a dream destination for nature photographers. And although the focus of this article is on Costa Rica's landscapes, its wildlife is at least equally spectacular and vibrant.
How to Get to Costa Rica
From most parts of the USA, direct flights that take no more than six hours are available to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. If you are traveling from Europe, you'll also find some direct options. Those usually take around 12 hours and are pricey. The cheapest flights are via the USA. If you don't mind a travel time of 20 hours or more and the trouble of dealing with US customs, this can save a lot of money.
Getting Around Costa Rica
The best way to explore Costa Rica is by renting a car. Due to the road conditions in many parts of the country, you should at least rent an SUV, ideally with a 4-wheel drive option. It can be expensive if you plan to stay more than a few weeks, especially when visiting during the high season. Between late November and April, car and hotel prices are significantly higher compared to the rainy season.
I was visiting Costa Rica for nearly three months last year, and renting a car for the whole time was out of the question. Some people buy a car and later sell it if they stay in a country for a long time. But you should know your way around cars and speak the local language well.
There is also another option: to travel along the east and west coast of Costa Rica, you can use buses. Several companies offer regular trips up and down the coast for a few dollars. If you don't mind public transport, this is a good way of seeing the coastal areas of Costa Rica. You won't have the same flexibility as with a rental car, but at the coast, you'll find plenty of walkable photo spots close to major towns. Examples are Manuel Antonio, Uvita, and Puerto Viejo.
For exploring the mountains and the central parts of the country, I would advise against it. There, it's too limiting for photographers that need to get around. That's why I split my time in Costa Rica. I first explored the west coast for a month by bus, then rented a car for three weeks to explore the mountains, and later finished my stay on the east coast, again traveling by bus.
Landscape Photography in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a very diverse country with something to photograph for every type of nature photographer.
On its eastern side, Costa Rica faces the Caribbean, and in the west, the wild Pacific Ocean. If you have enough time, you should visit both sides, because they are very different.
Puerto Viejo, for example, is a tourist hub in the southeast of the country. It's easy to get there by bus from San Jose. The best place to stay for photography is Manzanillo, a few kilometers south of Puerto Viejo. You'll have a national park with a spectacular coastline close by and a beach featuring a shipwreck right in front of the town.
On Costa Rica's west coast it was much easier to find great photo spots. The beaches there are wild and lined by countless palm trees. While there are places as crowded as Puerto Viejo, the sheer amount of beaches makes it easy to find areas that give you the Robinson Crusoe feeling.
The beaches of the Marino Ballena National Park are one example. Uvita is the most popular beach in the park and, especially around sunset during low tide, a fantastic photo location.
Costa Rica is not only known for its pristine beaches. It's also a country full of waterfalls. Areas like Bajos del Toro reminded me of the Columbia River gorge in Oregon. Within a radius of a few miles, you'll find countless waterfalls of different sizes and strengths. The most spectacular of them is the Catarata del Toro. It's part of a little park for which you have to pay an entrance fee of around $15. You can combine such a visit with a tour of additional waterfalls in the area.
Entrance fees are a common theme in Costa Rica. Most photogenic places are either part of National Parks or located on private land. As long as this helps the preservation of Costa Rica's nature, it is a good thing. But much of the money is used to develop access to those places. It brings more people, and because of that, many places begin to lose their natural beauty.Que Buen Lugar. But when studying the different guides on this homepage, you'll find that even for remote locations, there's still an entrance fee, or you are required to hire a local guide.
A large part of Costa Rica is covered by dense woodland. Areas that stand out are the cloud forests of Monteverde and the Quetzales National Park. Those places are magical and full of photographic potential. Tapping into this potential requires time. I spent five days around Monteverde exploring the various trails. Finding good compositions in this chaotic environment is challenging. But if you follow enough trails, you'll eventually find some order within the moss-covered vegetation.
Costa Rica has several mountainous regions, with the highest mountain, Cerro Chirripo, reaching more than 3,800 meters. Cerro Chirripo National Park is one of the places I would have loved to visit, but it didn't fit into my itinerary. If you plan to visit Costa Rica and are looking for a mountain adventure, consider adding this place to your list.
If you are looking for a view that's easier to reach, the rolling hills around Monteverde provide you with several options. The best of them is the view from Cerro Pinocho. From there, you can see down to the Gulf of Nicoya.
Despite being one of the most expensive countries in Central and South America, Costa Rica is a must-visit destination for photographers because of its wide array of breathtaking landscapes and natural wonders. One final piece of advice I want to give you for such a visit is: don't rush it. Try not to pack too much into your travel itinerary and allow yourself time to get to know the places you visit.